“When civilization ends, it ends fast.”
This week’s episode of Fear The Walking Dead upped the pace and the stakes as the world of the series pushes ever closer to oblivion. While the audience is eagerly anticipating the full-on rise of the post-apocalyptic landscape of the primary The Walking Dead series, the creators behind the prequel have done a solid job in showing their hand just enough to keep the audience on the edges of their respective seats, while not completely going over the proverbial cliff.
If this episode can be said to have a driving theme, it is that of resistance. Everywhere we see the denizens of the world of Fear The Walking Dead attempting to hold on to normalcy, despite the obvious portents around them. Whether it is washing dishes, celebrating birthdays, or going about the daily minutiae of their workaday jobs, most people are unwilling to accept that their world is very obviously breaking down. Everywhere we see depicted the gradual failure of the systems upon which the modern world is reliant. Average traffic jams become inescapable snarls. Strained police forces are stretched hopelessly thin (despite demonstrating a surprising level of competence and composure in the scenes where they’re shown up close). Communications begin to falter and electrical grids become increasingly unreliable.
It is difficult to believe that people would be so stubborn in their refusal to acknowledge such blatant clues that the end is near, but therein lays both the tragedy and genius of the episode. Fittingly, it is those who are least invested in the continued survival of the mundane world who are apparently most ready to accept the coming horror. The character of Tobias, in particular, is a prime example of this. Played with remarkable skill and subtlety by the young Lincoln A. Castellanos,we see an almost gleeful execution of his pre-constructed survival plan, as if he is almost glad that the world which has so tormented him is nearing it’s demise.
This is both contrasted and echoed in the performances of the rest of the cast. Kim Dickens‘ Madison Clark, despite having already borne witness to the horrifying reality of the spreading sickness, struggles mightily to hang on to any semblance of normalcy which she can. There an almost comical sadness in seeing her wash dishes or in seeing Cliff Curtis‘ Travis wash the bloodstains from the hood of his truck.
One element which has been absolutely vital to the thematic mythos of the universe of The Walking Dead makes its debut in this episode, specifically that the odds of one’s survival in a world like this one are almost entirely predicated on the ability to make connections and create communities of allies. The tried-and-true saying behind the original series was “the most dangerous thing in a zombie apocalypse is other people”. That idea is contrasted here by showing how other people can also be the most important resource for anyone hoping to make it through the day alive. No one we have met to this point would be capable of surviving on their own, and it is only through the willing or coerced assistance of those around them that they are able to pull through. To that end, this episode marks the debut of the Salazar family, who serve as an example of coerced cooperation. While we’ve yet to learn much about them or what they will mean to the story, the actors involved are all set to continue their roles through the first season, so that information is surely coming.
Director Adam Davidson does a wonderful job in coaxing the most out of his actors in their big moments. We can see the cognitive dissonance reflected on their faces as they struggle to integrate the information and experiences coming at them with their ingrained belief that society will prevail. The gradual surrender of that belief, paralleled by the quickening breakdown of the world around them, makes for a compelling character drama. We see normal people forced to accept the brutality and paranoia which are necessary to survive moving forward. We see the pain this acknowledgement causes in them, and their varying degrees of acceptance. We can almost sympathize with their denial, even as we like to think that we’d know better.
The increasingly rapid progression of decline is strengthened by the continued excellence of Michael McDonough‘s cinematography. Where the first episode featured a great many earth tones and ambers, this episode features stark reds and oranges, letting us know that the leaves of this world have almost finished changing color and are prepared to fall from their branches. His camerawork, often claustrophobic and quivering, evokes the feeling of having one’s perspective on the world shaken, effectively bringing the audience into the mindset of the characters in the story. There is one moment which is utterly chilling, as a balloon is seen rising into the sky. Coming as it does right after a key incident which should scream “run” to the characters, the use of a metaphor which has fallen largely out of use in the early 21st century is incredibly cunning. “The balloon’s gone up” was once a universally known phrase to indicate that danger was imminent and shelter should be found, but our coddled society has mostly forgotten its origins and existence.
That same quickening collapse registers in the episode’s score, developed this week by Paul Haslinger. There is one particular moment where he really shines as he steals key note sequences from the main theme of The Walking Dead and does so to great effect.
The second episode of Fear The Walking Dead successfully walks the line between continued character development and advancing the larger plot. It quickens the pace of the pilot and heightens the sense of dread in the characters themselves. It does a chilling job of showing us the last days of relative normalcy the world will experience before it truly reaches critical mass. The actors and technical crew do their jobs wonderfully, lending their considerable skills to the crafting of a story which may go down as one of the most emotional and chilling examples of apocalyptic fiction in popular culture.